Let's face it. The holidays are a lot of work. Mostly happy work, but it's work. And hosting a holiday get-together can add to the load. But there's an easy solution: Have everyone over for brunch. My daughter, Kellie, has a Christmas brunch every year, usually from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.. What is really great about it is that we get to spend the day together and that leaves her plenty of time to visit her in-laws. And I get to relax before, during and after the gathering.
Now here's the important stuff: The recipes. We choose recipes that are easy, such as overnight casseroles and slow-cooker dishes. What you will find below are a few of our favorites This is not a planned menu. Give one or more of them a try.
FRUIT SWIRL COFFEE CAKE
Add a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream -- it's the holidays!
11/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening (I substituted butter)
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons vanilla or 1 teaspoon vanilla and ½ teaspoon almond extract
3 cups flour
1 or 2 21-ounce cans fruit pie filling (I used 1 can cherry and 1 can blackberry)
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugar, butter, shortening (or butter), baking powder, vanilla, and eggs with a standing or hand held mixer on low until blended, then 3 minutes on high.
Stir in flour just until blended. Spread 2/3 of batter into a greased 10-by-15-inch jellyroll pan.
Spoon pie filing over batter. Drop remaining batter by tablespoons over top of filling. Bake 35 minutes or until light brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Mix confectioners' sugar and milk in a small bowl until smooth. Drizzle over coffee cake while still warm.
-- "Fix-It and Enjoy-It! Potluck Heaven" by Phyllis Pellman Good (Good, 2011, $15.95)
HOLIDAY MORNING FRENCH TOAST
Open just about any cookbook and you'll find a recipe for overnight French toast. With apples, raisins and cinnamon, this version adds a little spice to your holiday brunch.
1 cup brown packed sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon cinnamon, divided
3 to 4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup raisins
1 loaf French or Italian bread, sliced 1-inch thick
8 to 9 eggs, beaten
2 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Combine brown sugar, butter and one teaspoon cinnamon in a lightly greased 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Add apples and raisins; toss to coat well. Spread apple mixture evenly over bottom of baking pan. Arrange slices of bread on top (I had to squeeze in some of the bread); set aside. Blend together eggs, milk, vanilla and remaining cinnamon until well mixed. Pour mixture over bread, coating bread completely (you may need to press the bread lightly). Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate 4 to 24 hours.
Bake covered at 375 degrees 40 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm with syrup if desired.
-- "Goose Berry Patch, Big book of Home Cooking," (Oxmoor House, 2011, $29.95)
HAM AND CHEESE SLAB PIES
These pies are delicious and perfect for brunch. For smaller portions, slice the pies into 1-inch slabs. You'll want to remove pastry sheets from the freezer and allow to thaw overnight.
2 3-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons honey mustard
17-ounce package frozen puff pastry sheets (2 sheets), thawed
6 ounces thinly sliced Black Forest ham
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
6 ounces thinly sliced Gruyere, Swiss, or cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a small bowl stir together cream cheese and mustard; set aside.
Unfold puff pastry sheets. On a lightly floured surface, roll each sheet into a 15-by-12-inch rectangle. Transfer each sheet to a prepared baking sheet; spread half of each pastry lengthwise with cream cheese mixture, leaving a ½-inch border around outside edges.
Layer ham, onion, and cheese over cream cheese, leaving a ½-inch border around outside edges. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and water.
Brush some of the egg mixture on the uncovered edges of the pastries. Fold uncovered portion of each pastry rectangle up and over filling. Press edges together over filling. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges.
Brush tops with egg mixture
Cut decorative slits in top of each pastry for steam to escape.
Bake about 25 minutes or until pastries are golden on both the top and bottom. If top browns more quickly than the bottom, cover with foil. Slide pies and parchment paper onto wire racks; cool slightly. To serve, cut crosswise into strips.
To make ahead: Prepare as directed through step 2, except do not preheat oven and do not brush tops of pies with egg mixture. Freeze pies on parchment paper lined baking pans until firm. Wrap pies tightly with plastic wrap; over wrap with heavy foil. Freeze up to 2 months.
To serve, thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place on parchment paper lined baking sheets. Brush with egg mixtures. Bake and cool as directed.
Makes 12 pies.
-- "Baking: More Than 350 Recipes Plus Tips and Techniques" by Better Homes and Gardens (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, $29.99)
SAUSAGE AND TATER-TOT BRUNCH CASSEROLE
If you prefer a spicier casserole, substitute hot sausage. Use a 6-quart slow cooker for this recipe.
1 pound ground breakfast sausage
3 to 4 cups frozen tater tots, or enough to cover the bottom of the slow cooker
1¼ cups milk
Pinch of dry mustard powder
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup minced green onions (both green and white parts)
Crumble the sausage and place it in a large preheated frying pan. Fry over medium high heat until fully cooked through and a little crispy. Drain on paper towels.
Generously grease the inside of the slow cooker with cooking spray. Spread tater tots in the slow cooker, followed by the sausage.
Whisk together eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add cheese and onions. Mix well. Pour egg mixture over sausage and tater tots.
Cover and cook on low at least 4 hours and up to 5 hours, or until the eggs are fully set. (Keep an eye on the casserole during the last hour or so of cooking -- to make sure the edges don't burn.) Serve straight from the slow-cooker.
-- "The Southern Slow Cooker" by Kendra Bailey Morris (Teen Speed, 2013, $19.99)
SPINACH AND PARMESAN STRATA
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
2 16-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
6 large eggs
2 cups milk
1½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
6 cups bread cubes, crusts removed (a sturdy bread such as Pepperidge Farm)
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Coat the inside of the insert of a 5- to 7-quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray or line it with a slow-cooker liner according to the manufacturer's directions.
Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and saute 2 minutes, until softened. Add spinach and nutmeg and saute until liquid in the pan is evaporated. Set aside to cool.
Whisk together eggs, milk, salt, and Tabasco in a large bowl. Arrange half the bread in the slow-cooker insert. Top with half of the spinach mixture and half the cheese. Layer the remaining bread, spinach and cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the casserole and press down to make sure the bread has absorbed the egg mixture. Cover and cook on low 3 to 31/2 hours, until the strata is cooked through.
Serve warm from the cooker set on warm.
-- "Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever" by Diane Phillips (Chronicle, 2009, $24.95)
BREAKFAST IN BREAD
This hearty bread is studded with crispy bacon and cubed ham.
3/4 cup milk
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
1 cup diced fully cooked ham
1 cup each shredded Monterey jack, Swiss and sharp cheddar cheese
In a large bowl, beat eggs until foamy. Stir in milk. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add to egg mixture and mix well. Stir in bacon ham and cheese. Pour into a greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
Bake at 350 degrees 50 to 60 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted near the center comes out clean. Serve warm. -- "Taste of Home Cooking School" (Reiman, 2012, $17.99)
Arlene Burnett: firstname.lastname@example.org.